Novation Productions Presents Season Five Episode Thirteen

Season Finale

Special Delivery
By DawnC and Alberte
Epilogue By Ismaro


Act One


Blair read the sentence for the third time. Man, he just couldn't concentrate. Graduation was less than two weeks away, and he'd officially be Doctor Blair Sandburg. After all of the years he'd spent working toward that goal, it still seemed somewhat unreal that it was finally coming to fruition. Doctor Blair Sandburg. Doctor Sandburg. It tripped lightly off his tongue, a sweet sound.

A knock pulled his attention from the student paper that he was supposed to be grading. He looked up and saw a familiar young man with short red hair and a round face that displayed a faint spattering of freckles.

"Hey, Scott." Blair rose from his chair and glanced at his watch. "Wow, it's that time already?"

Scott Boyle stepped hesitantly into the office, offering a tiny smile. "Yes, Mr. Sandburg, and I really appreciate this."

Blair waved a hand in the air and moved around his desk, walking to the door and locking it. "Don't mention it, and call me Blair." He gestured into the hallway and followed Scott, closing the door behind him. "I'm always interested in heightened senses."

"Yeah, but I bet you get these requests a lot. Not just from poor T.A.'s like me. Undergrads. The public. You know...."

Blair grinned. "Not as much as I'd like. There are tons of people with one or two heightened senses, but few in Cascade that I haven't already worked with for my thesis. I have gotten a lot of calls, however."

Scott's smile brightened. "Hey, you could start your own sensory consulting business."

Blair chuckled and turned to his right, pushing open the door to the lab. "And give up teaching? Nah, man. I love this stuff." He leaned on the lab counter. "Okay, so down to business. It's your hearing, right?"

Scott nodded. "Yeah. Like I told you before, the sound seems to travel from one ear to the other. You know, like speakers on a stereo with surround sound? And some things seem much too loud. Other times, it's like I'm under water."

Blair frowned and cocked his head. "And you still haven't seen a doctor about this?"

"Uh, no." Scott ducked his head. "Not yet. I have a small phobia about going to the doctor."

Blair sighed. "Well, I'll gladly put you through a few tests, but you should face your fear, man, and make an appointment to see a physician. This sounds more like a medical problem, and that's way out of my area. The last thing I want to do is get busted for practicing medicine without a license."

Scott nodded quickly. "I swear I will, Mr. Sandburg, uh, Blair. It's just that I don't have a cold, and I feel fine otherwise. And, at night, it's getting really hard to sleep because sounds are too loud. My roommate was watching the television on mute with closed captioning because he didn't want to disturb me, and I could still hear the dialogue." He swallowed and eyed Blair hopefully. "So, you'll still run me through a few tests?"


Carl Murphy snapped his cell phone closed and stifled a curse, punching the steering wheel of his BMW. The heat was getting too close, putting him and the entire operation in jeopardy. A hell of a lot of money was at stake. He needed to do something, and he needed to do it fast. Maybe he could find a scapegoat, someone to take the fall and satisfy the feds. Once they closed the investigation, Carl could pack up the operation and move it elsewhere without the DEA on his tail.

Pushing his door open, he slid out of his car and headed for Hargrove Hall. The Boyle kid should have the next shipment ready, and maybe, just maybe, Carl could fix it so that the snot-nosed redhead took the fall. The only problem he could see with that was that the kid would turn over on him in an instant, and the feds weren't stupid enough to believe that a little T.A. with no prior history could run such a sophisticated operation on his own.

Stepping into the building, Carl spotted Boyle and another man coming out of an office. He recognized Boyle's companion instantly. Blair Sandburg, the man who had made the press in a big way not so long ago. Sandburg had also been partially responsible for the downfall of one of Carl's business partners. When Parkman had gone down, Carl had lost over twenty grand. In fact, if he remembered correctly, Sandburg had actually been arrested for possession of heroin during that operation. He smiled. It was almost too perfect.

The two Rainier students walked toward Carl, engaged in conversation. He saw Scott glance his way, a nervous expression flickering over his face, then return his gaze to Sandburg.

Yeah, we'll talk later, kid. Carl grinned, listening to the conversation as the two men passed him.

"Thanks again, Blair, and I'll make an appointment first thing."

"Good. Hate to tell you it's probably just an ear infection, but that's my best guess."

"No problem. I'll be seeing you around."

Carl stopped and turned around. "Oh, Scott."

Scott froze, then slowly turned away from Sandburg to look at him. "Oh, hi, Barry. I, uh... What's up, man?"

Carl smiled politely. "About those Mobile Meal boxes we've got to load..."

"Right!" Scott took a breath, bouncing nervously. "I was just finishing up something with Mr. Sandburg."

"Oh, silly me." Carl extended his hand. "Hello there, I'm Barry Gil." Carl used his alternate name smoothly. "I'm one of the volunteers for Mobile Meals, and Scott's been kind enough to help us out."

"Oh, right." Blair smiled and shook the hand. "Blair Sandburg, pleased to meet you. Mobile Meals delivers food to the sick and elderly, right?"

"Yep. We also provide some of the older people with much-needed company."

"Sounds like a great program." Blair pushed his hands into his trouser pockets.

"Yep, it is. In fact, we're loading some of the boxes into the van later this afternoon. We could use an extra hand, if you've got some time."

"Oh, Blair's pretty busy," Scott interrupted quickly.

"No problem." Blair smiled. "I'm happy to help. I'm free after two for a little bit."

Carl grinned. "That's perfect! I'll meet you here at 2:15?"

Scott shook his head. "It's really okay, Blair. You don't have to--"

"I'll see you two then." Blair patted Scott on the arm. "Really, it's okay with me. I'll enjoy it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to teach a class in a few minutes."

"Goodbye, Blair." Carl smiled. "And thanks!"


Jim stared at the monitor on his desk, a small smile blossoming on his face. He looked at the balance in his money market account. It wasn't quite enough, but almost... If he sold a few of his stock shares, he'd be able to purchase the item in more than enough time. It had been on hold with his hefty deposit for about a month. Jim couldn't believe he'd actually found it, but his hard work and detective skills had paid off. He couldn't wait...  

Jim's smile widened into a grin. Blair would graduate in two weeks and receive his Ph.D., summa cum laude. Jim couldn't help feeling a twinge of guilt with that thought, but at least Blair had reached his dream. He would get his PhD, continue teaching, and remain Jim's partner. Life was good. 

"Hey, Jim," a deep voice grumbled.

Jim quickly hit the alt-tab on his keyboard to switch the monitor view to his email application. He swiveled in his chair to face the captain. "Hello, sir. What can I do for you?"

"Doing a little personal banking?"

Jim kept a stoic face. "Nope."

"Oh, no?" Simon crossed his arms. "Well, Detective, just remember that the city of Cascade doesn't pay you to keep track of your personal finances using your work computer."

Jim grimaced. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Of course, if you've got something planned that you'd like to share..." Simon grinned.

Jim leaned back in his chair, a faint smile lifting his lips. "Nope."

Simon rolled his eyes. "Riigght." 

"You came over here for a reason, sir?" Jim managed a small grin. "Not that I don't enjoy your company..."

Simon sat on the edge of Jim's desk. "Yeah, I'm here for a reason." He leaned closer to Jim and looked briefly around the bullpen, lowering his voice. "You started on the party preparations? What do you want me to do?"

Jim's grin blossomed. "Yep. I've got the back room of the restaurant reserved and managed to invite most of Blair's friends at the university. A lot of them are also graduating, however, so I'm guessing they've got their own things to go to. At any rate, everyone here at MC has been invited, and I told them all to keep it hush-hush. Sandburg won't know what hit him."

Simon chuckled. "I can't wait. It's definitely something I intend to preserve for posterity on film. Daryl's coming, too, by the way."

"Great." Jim leaned forward in his chair. "He's worked damn hard for this day, and I'm gonna make sure we give him one hell of a party."


Carl grinned as Scott fidgeted next to him. Sure enough, there was Blair Sandburg, striding down the hall, right on time.

"Okay, so where do we start?" Sandburg smiled and bounced on the balls of his feet. "Just point me in the right direction."

Carl grinned and pointed down the hall. "Four doors down to your right." He reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved his keys. "The van's parked in the loading zone right out front. It's a white minivan. Scott and I have to run to one of the storage closets here and retrieve a few more boxes. Would you mind starting while we do that? It'd save us a lot of time."

Scott fidgeted. "You know, Barry, I'm sure Blair...."

Blair took the keys. "It's not a problem. Really. It's been far too long since I've done community service." He grinned. "It's good Karma."

"Thank you, Blair." Carl smiled, gently grabbed Scott's arm, and steered him toward the staircase. "We'll see you in a few minutes."

Once on the staircase, Scott turned to him. "Why'd you ask Blair to do this? What if he finds out...?"

"The boxes are all sealed, Scott, don't worry. Look, go to your office and get me yesterday's delivery files. Oh, and run the inventory numbers for last week, too. Bring them to me out back. I'll be waiting on the bench, then we'll go help Sandburg."

"But, that's going to take some time. What about Blair?"

"He'll be fine! They're just boxes. Now move, Boyle. I don't have a lot of time."

"Right." Practically gulping his breaths, Scott turned and hurried up the stairs.

Carl grinned and yanked out his cell phone, hitting the autodial. It was a new phone. He changed them frequently to thwart any wiretaps.

"Hello," the familiar voice answered.

"It's me. Is it all set?"

"Yep, I've got a good, clear view of the building. Two unmarked cars are stationed across the street. Apparently, your anonymous tip did the trick." A chuckle. "The feds are so subtle."

"Good. I'm gonna split. I don't want to be anywhere around when the heat comes down on Sandburg's head."'

"What about Boyle?"

"He's out of the way at the moment. By the time he's finished doing the little errands I gave him, the show'll be over, and I'll be gone."

"What if he squeals?"

"He won't. He's stupid, but not that stupid. I don't want to take him out if I don't have to. That'll raise even more heat, and the local cops might not be as happy as the feds to close the investigation. Besides, the kid only knows my alias, not my real name."

"Okay. I'll let you know when it's over."

"Thanks. See ya."

He hung up the phone and walked down the stairs to the lower level. He'd take the back way out.


Blair used the key to unlock the back door of the waiting van, not certain whether he should start loading boxes into the back or the side first. Once the door was opened, he saw the racks built in to hold the boxes, and decided that it would be safe to start there. Whistling slightly under his breath, he pocketed the keys and headed back into the building for his first armload of packages.

Finding the indicated hallway door unlocked, he walked in and found a large number of almost shoebox-sized white boxes stacked neatly on top of a long counter that extended across the back wall. Wow, I wonder if this is just one day's deliveries. No wonder they always need volunteers.

Filling his arms with as many of the boxes as he could safely juggle, as they weren't very heavy, he turned and headed back out to the van, only bumping his arm briefly on the doorframe on the way out. He peered around the side of the stack to make sure that he didn't fall down the stairs on the way out and gave a sigh of relief when he set his first load into the van and arranged them neatly on the highest shelf. He turned and returned for another load.

The second time he filled his arms more quickly, now that he knew what he was doing. On his way back down the hallway, he saw a man with a vaguely familiar face coming toward him, and he smiled in hello.

"Hi, how's it going?"

The other man didn't reply, simply smiled back and kept walking. Blair wrote it off as someone too tied up in his own thoughts, a state that he was all too familiar with himself. He let it go and continued on his task, letting his own thoughts drift a bit toward his upcoming graduation and what would likely be an unforgettable celebration afterward, if he knew his roommate at all.

He finished stacking the third load into the back of the van, leaning in to be sure that the boxes were stacked all the way to the back of the shelf. Blair straightened, turned and began to step forward, only to find his way blocked by two stern-looking men in almost-matching leather jackets, one black and one brown. One of them held open a leather bi-fold wallet, a badge in one flap and DEA identification in the other.

"Hold it right there, mister. Slowly raise your hands up and away from your body."

Blair slowly followed directions, stunned speechless.

The agents took a couple of steps back and gestured ahead of him.

"I want you to walk forward ten feet and stop. Keep your hands up." Blair complied. "Turn around, put your hands on your head and interlace your fingers."

"Wha…"

When Blair walked forward and then turned, he was again struck speechless at the sight before him. Two uniformed officers, guns drawn and pointed at him, were standing by the front doors of the van, one on each side. A couple more agents with black jackets and baseball caps that proclaimed "DEA" in bright yellow letters trotted into the building entrance, hands on their still-holstered weapons. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a patrol car pulling up, the K-9 logo on the side.

The man that had earlier passed him in the hallway came out of the building and called out to the agent at Blair's side.

"No one else in sight."

"Wha…what's going on here?" Blair stuttered as he finally regained his voice. The black-jacketed agent beside him held up a hand for silence with a grim expression.

The K-9 officer and his dog got out of their car and walked toward the van. After only a few moments, the dog sounded loudly at the van's back door, his handler barely able to keep him from leaping inside.

"That's it." The apparent agent-in-charge pulled a radio out of his pocket and spoke rapidly into it. "We've got it, move in. Secure the room and make a quick search of the area. We haven't seen anyone else, but we don't want to miss any accomplices of our long-haired friend here."

He pocketed the radio and gestured to the uniformed officers, who holstered their weapons and approached Blair. One of them began reciting his Miranda rights as the other frisked him efficiently, handing his wallet and the van keys to Brown Jacket before cuffing Blair's hands behind his back.

"You have the right to remain silent. Should you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you…"

"What's going on here? What are you arresting me for?"

Another uniformed officer walked up and handed one of the opened white boxes to the officer in charge. He reached in with a gloved hand and pulled out a plastic bag, holding it up in front of Blair's astonished face. The contents were unmistakable.

"Looks like marijuana to me, Jack."

His partner looked up, grinning. "Looks like marijuana to me, too, Tommy boy."

The first man opened up Blair's wallet and glanced at his driver's license.

"What does it look like to you, uh, Blair?" he grinned.

The uniformed officer droned on, reciting Blair's rights almost on automatic.

"…you have a right to an attorney. Should you be unable to afford one…."

"Look, guys, this is some kind of a mistake…. Blair blurted out.

"Sure it is, pal, that's what they all say. You're being arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Now, how about making it easy on yourself and giving up your partners. Unless you're in this all alone?"

"No, I…."

Blair watched as a uniform walked out of the building and shook his head, calling out.

"Didn't find anyone else around. There's probably another fifty boxes inside."

Black Jacket whistled and grinned. "Well, well, well, boys and girls, I'd say we've caught us a good one today."

Looking around frantically, Blair spotted no sign of either Scott or his friend, Barry. Realization dawned over him that he'd been left holding the bag.

Other than agents checking out the scene and gathering evidence, he realized with a sinking feeling that the surrounding area was filling with students, faculty and passersby, checking out the commotion. As officers waved people on their way, Blair could see several faces that he recognized. He felt his face flush, and he looked down to avoid the stares of shock and recognition aimed at him.

A hand roughly grabbed his arm and pulled him forward.

"All right. Let's take this one in. Maybe he'll be a little more talkative once Brainerd gets hold of him."

Blair stumbled along, in shock, barely putting one foot in front of the other. This can't be happening, this can't be happening…

He was startled when his head struck the door frame as he was being placed into the back of a squad car. Only the firm grasp on his upper arm kept him from falling to his knees.

"Hey, I told you to watch your head. Pay attention, here. Now get in there." This time the officer put a hand on top of Blair's head and pushed it down as he helped him into the car's back seat.

Uncomfortably scooting across the seat, his cuffed hands making his movements awkward, Blair barely noticed the staring faces as the car pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the street. What the hell is happening here? And what is Jim gonna think? And all of the rest of Major Crimes? And, oh God, Chancellor Edwards…

He let his head drop against his chest as his thoughts swirled deeper and deeper into despair.


Jim dropped into the seat at his desk. With just a quick, guilty look around to make sure that Simon wasn't in range, he turned to his computer and logged off the CPD internal email system and accessed the Internet. Signing in to his personal email account, he eagerly checked for new messages received since he had been caught red-handed by Simon a couple of hours before.

Gratefully, he spotted the message from his broker that he'd been waiting for. The broker had gotten what he needed from liquidating those shares, so the financial piece was finally falling into place. Opening his desk drawer, Jim dug out the email address that he needed for the next step. Quickly typing out a brief email, planning to continue on his home computer after work, he clicked on "send" and logged off. A smile broke across his face as it looked like his plans might actually come to fruition.

"Hey, Jim, share the good news with us. What's up?" Henri sauntered up to Jim's desk with a grin. "You look like the cat that ate the canary, man. Come on, give."

Jim leaned back in his chair, interlocking his fingers behind his head, spreading his elbows wide in contentment.

"What do you mean, H? Can't a man just be happy in his work?"

Henri snorted in disbelief. "Yeah, sure. To be that happy, you must have nailed one of America's Most Wanted."

"No, but I have finished the paperwork on the Linardi and Swanson cases, and as soon as Sandburg gets here and finishes his statement on the Cummings bust, I'll be able to get half of this pile off my desk."

"Not bad, not bad. Where is your better half, anyway?"

"Very funny, H, but don't give up your day job. He's at Rainier today, but he said he should be here around three. Any time now, as a matter of fact."

"Speaking of our favorite scholar, I still can't believe that he's really getting that PhD. After all the times I've called him 'Doc' as a joke, now he really will be one. So what are you getting him for a graduation present?"

"I can't tell you, it's a secret."

"Come on, you can tell me. My lips are sealed."

"No way, pal, I'm not taking any chances. When's the last time you could keep a secret from him? He gets you talking and, before you know it, you've told him your life story. Nope, this one is going to stay secret."

Despite Henri's best efforts at begging, Jim resisted.

"Fine, Jim, be that way. Anyway, I still haven't gotten him anything. Any suggestions?"

Before he could respond, Simon joined them. The grim look on his face soured their festive mood.

"Jim…"

"Not you, too, Simon. Don't tell me that you can't think of a single thing to get Sandburg for a graduation present?"

Simon took a deep breath before replying.

"Jim, I've got bad news. Sandburg…."

Jim sat up, freeing his hands from behind his head.

"What now, Simon? Don't tell me his car's broken down. Why didn't he call me instead?"

"Jim, let me finish. I just got a call from Dave Enberg. Remember, he got transferred over to Eastside? He got tapped to assist with a federal operation today, at the University, and he recognized the suspect."

"No, Simon, no…"

"Sandburg's been arrested, and he's in holding at the Federal Building."

"What, Captain?" Henri's eyebrows shot up. "Arrested? For what?"

Jim was on his feet. "What the hell?"

"The charges are for possession of drugs with the intent to distribute, and the DEA has the case."

"No way!" Henri exclaimed. "It must be some kind of mistake, right?"

"You must be kidding, Simon…" Jim took a long look at his superior. "Oh my God, you're serious."

"I am, Jim. I'm headed over there right now. You coming?"

Striding over to the coat rack and grabbing his jacket, Jim beat him to the door. Simon had to quicken his step to catch up, and they bypassed the elevator and headed straight for the stairs.

"You tell Hairboy to hang tough!" Henri called after them.


Act Two


Blair sat in the holding cell that he shared with two other men, neither of whom seemed interested in bothering him. They slouched on the small cot-like seat, propped against the wall. One snored softly. The other just stared at the ceiling.

Incarceration was boring.

Blair rested on the floor, his knees pulled up and his back against the wall. His butt was beginning to hurt, and he was hungry. It had been hours since he’d been arrested, booked and thoroughly searched. They’d tried to interrogate him, but he’d learned enough working with the cops to say the magic words, "I don’t want you questioning me further without my attorney present."

He’d tried calling Jim at Major Crime, but had gotten only voice mail. He'd left a message, and hoped that Jim got it soon. He didn't bother cushioning the news, letting Jim know that he'd been arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, they were holding him in the federal courthouse, and he really, really needed help.

C'mon, Jim. Please, please check your messages. Please get me out of here.

With a tired sigh, Blair dropped his forehead to his knees. God, he had the crappiest luck. Only he could get arrested for a crime he hadn't committed weeks from his graduation. Chancellor Edwards would have a field day. He had a sudden vision of Edwards feeding his diploma into her personal shredder, self-satisfied gloating spread across her face as she chuckled in glee. Even if the charges ended up being dropped – God, please – he wouldn’t be able to erase the experience of being arrested in front of Hargrove Hall from his mind. Having all those students, and even some faculty, watching as he was cuffed and led into a squad car was one of his most humiliating moments, and that kind of image wasn’t something any of the spectators were likely to forget.

He was so stupid! He'd walked right into the set-up without a clue. He’d never have pegged Scott as a drug-runner. The kid had always been a diligent student with a polite manner.

He set me up.

A foul taste rose in the back of Blair’s throat. Why me? What did I ever do?

Wait…

The conversation he'd had earlier with Scott and Gil came back to him. Scott hadn’t wanted him involved, had actually tried to excuse Blair.

Okay, so Scott hadn’t wanted to set him up, but he’d known at the time what was in those boxes, and he hadn’t said anything.

Just what the hell have you gotten yourself into, Scott? Or, what have you gotten us into?


Suzanne Tomaki slowed her footsteps as she entered the Administration Building. Most of the time she loved her job. As Rainier's Chief of Security, she was good at her job, too. Rainier was one of the safest university campuses in the state, and she had no regrets about having left the Cascade Police Department.

The job had its distasteful moments as well, though, none more distasteful than her current task. Sighing, she straightened her uniform tie and her jacket, then opened the door into the Chancellor's office.

The young man at the reception desk looked up and waved her in.

"Go on in, she's been waiting to hear from you."

Taking a deep breath, Suzanne entered the inner office.

Chancellor Edwards looked up from the document she had been reading.

"Chief Tomaki, how did it go? Did they catch anyone?"

"They made one arrest, and removed a vehicle and other items of evidence, including a large amount of marijuana. The agent in charge said that they'll be continuing their investigation, and they'll keep us informed."

"Who did they arrest? Was it a student or faculty, or an outsider?"

Now came the hard part.

"It was a Rainier student, Chancellor. Blair Sandburg."

The Chancellor's eyes widened, and Suzanne could swear that she saw a flicker of a feral grin cross her face before it was replaced with a stern expression.

"Sandburg? It figures. That man has been nothing but trouble for this university. I knew we shouldn't have let him return."

"He is innocent until proven guilty, you know," Suzanne asserted.

"Yes, well…please give the DEA any cooperation or assistance that they need. And please inform Sandburg that, until he is found guilty or innocent, he is not welcome at Rainier. If he steps foot on campus, I want him arrested for trespassing. Is that clear?"

"Yes ma'am, quite clear."

"Thank you, Chief Tomaki. Keep me apprised."

Dismissed, Suzanne turned and left, the Chancellor's voice following her down the hall.

"Peter, pull out the Board of Directors file, and get University counsel on the line right away."


Rafe strolled into the bullpen, a cup of coffee in hand. He noticed an unusual silence and looked up as he reached his desk. Henri stood near Megan's desk, talking in hushed tones with the Australian inspector, who gazed up at him with wide, angry eyes.

"Hey." Rafe set his mug on the desk. "What's up, guys?"

"Huh?" Joel walked in. "Something up?"

Brown turned away from Megan, his face grim. "Sandburg's been arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute."

"What?" Rafe fell back against the edge of his desk. "Is this a joke?"

"Unfortunately, not." Henri shook his head. "Jim and the captain just left."

Joel stared at Brown, his mouth open. "I...Damn. Poor Sandburg. What happened? This is a mix-up, obviously. Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time, or something?"

Henri shrugged. "I don't know the details, but that's gotta be it, I'm sure. You know with Hairboy's luck..."

Joel nodded. "Yeah," he sighed heavily, "I know. Do we know about bail yet?"

Henri shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Well, with a first offense, I'm thinking it'll be around fifty grand, right?"

Rafe nodded. "Probably."

"So," Joel continued, "we raise five grand amongst ourselves and go to a bail bondsman."

"I'm in on that!" Megan spoke up finally.

"Me too." Henri smiled, nodding vigorously. "He's not going to stay there a moment longer than necessary."

"Right." Rafe swallowed. "Count me in. Let's just hope his bail hearing goes off without a hitch...and soon."


Simon walked alongside Jim, following the booking officer as she led them to the cell.

His captain's badge came with certain privileges, and today he was using them liberally. Although the DEA had jurisdiction over Blair's case, because state law had also allegedly been violated, the local PD had an interest, as well.

Jim's footsteps pounded heavily against the hard floor. "I swear, if these feds screwed up..."

"Easy, Jim. Let's just talk to Sandburg first."

The officer unlocked a door and led them down another hallway. Several feet later, they stopped at a modest cell that held three men. The figure on the floor with his knees pulled up and his hair hanging forward was unmistakable.

"Sandburg." Jim rushed forward, grabbing the bars.

Blair's head shot up. "Jim?" He scrambled to his feet and pressed against the bars, facing Jim. "You got my message? This is crazy. I didn't do anything. I was..." He closed his mouth, eyeing the officer, afraid that anything he said could and would be used against him, even if he would only be proclaiming his innocence.

"Are you all right? Have they been treating you okay?" Jim asked, looking Blair up and down, then checking out his cellmates and the rest of the cell.

"Yeah, all right. Jim, Simon, you know I didn't, I wouldn't…"

"Don't worry, Chief." Jim covered Blair's hand with his own, their fingers wrapped around one of the bars. "I'll have you out of here soon."

"How'd this happen, Sandburg?" Simon asked, moving closer.

Blair leaned his forehead against the cage. "Because I'm an idiot," he whispered low enough for only Jim and Simon to hear. "I was helping a friend load some Mobile Meals boxes into a van. They set me up. I was the only one there when the heat came down." He looked up at Jim, his eyes wide. "I swear, man, I had no idea what was really in the boxes."

Jim nodded gently. "I know, Blair. Don't worry, we'll straighten this mess out."


All heads turned as Jim and Simon entered the bullpen. Jim strode silently to his desk, grimfaced, picked up the phone and began dialing. Simon continued straight into his office, poured himself a cup of coffee and took a deep gulp. He turned and, seeing all of his detectives staring back and forth between him and Jim, waved them into his office.

Once everyone had entered, he closed the door behind them and leaned back against his desk, holding up a hand to silence the barrage of questions.

"All right, listen up. Sandburg's being held at the Federal Building on a possession with intent to distribute charge. He's all right, Jim and I just saw him in holding, but they won't let us talk with him further until they've had a chance to interrogate him and he's been arraigned. He's exercising his Miranda rights and isn't talking until he gets an attorney…"

"Good for him…"

"He's not gonna have to use a public defender, is he?"

Simon waved his hand for silence again.

"Jim's on top of that. He's calling Sara Inouye, she's the best. His arraignment will be tomorrow morning, unless it gets continued."

"She may be the best, but she doesn't come cheap," Megan sighed.

Simon nodded. "Jim says he's got it covered. Maybe he floated a loan from a couple of other Ellisons."

"What about bail?" Rafe asked.

"We won't know until tomorrow at the arraignment, but knowing Judge Cohen, I'd expect that he'd ask for the standard in cases like this. I think it will be $50,000 bail. Sandburg isn't even going to have a start on a down payment for that, so…"

"I think we'll be able to handle that, Captain," Joel interrupted. He held up the notebook in his right hand. "Everyone here has contributed, and a couple of uniforms that overheard said that they will, too. With a bail bondsman, we only need to come up with $5,000 cash. We've already got almost $3,500, and we'll find a way to come up with the rest by tomorrow morning."

"No matter what, we'll get it covered, Cap," Henri added. "Blair's not gonna be in there a minute longer than he has to."

Everyone in the room nodded assent. The faces that surrounded him, expressions of grim determination pasted upon them, filled Simon with a renewed sense of pride in his unit.

"Well done. Joel, put me down there, too. Whatever you need to reach the total, I'll cover it."

No one had noticed that Jim had quietly opened the door and entered the room, and now stood in the doorway, his mouth hanging open and a stunned expression on his face. It took him a moment to find his voice.

"You guys, I…I don't know what to say…"

Rafe spoke up for the group. "You don't have to say anything, Jim. Blair would go to the mat for any one of us, and you know it. It's the least we can do."

Simon stood and walked over to Jim's side, clapping him warmly on the back in support.

"Sandburg's one of us, Jim, and we stand up for our own."

"I know that, Simon. Rafe, Megan, Henry, Joel…thank you. It'll mean a lot to him."

Megan, standing closest of the detectives, reached over and strung an arm around Jim's waist, giving him a little hug before returning to her spot.

Simon returned to his seat, perched on the edge of his desk. "So, lady and gentlemen, let's get down to work on clearing our colleague. Jim, where do we stand for an attorney?"

"I reached Sara Inouye, and she's tentatively agreed to take the case. She's gonna call the feds and arrange to meet with Sandburg ASAP, and let me know so I can be there, too. I don't even know much about the charges or the case against him yet, all I know is that the lead investigator is a guy named Brainerd. We'll know more after we've met with Blair this afternoon."

"All right. For now, everyone get back to work on your current cases. Rafe, Brown, see what you can take off from Ellison's and Sandburg's caseload. Once we have something to work with, we'll do our own investigation and make sure that Sandburg doesn't go down for something that he didn't do. And everyone…" he stopped and looked around the room, ending with a pointed stare at Jim, "we'll do it by the book. You hear me?"

Murmurs of assent and several, "yes, sir" filled the room as the detectives filed out. Jim held Simon's stare for a moment before replying himself.

"By the book. Yes, sir."


"Damnit, I hate this." Jim glanced at Simon seated in the chair as he paced in the lobby of the federal building.

The feds were interrogating Blair and had refused to allow Jim or Simon to be present. Sara Inouye, Blair's attorney, was in with him, and between her and Blair's own smarts, Jim felt confident that the agents wouldn't get Sandburg to reveal anything potentially damaging.

Jim cocked his head. The agents may not have wanted him in the interrogation room, but what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. He honed his hearing, searching, and finally tuned in to Blair's voice.

"I already told you, I had no idea that drugs were in those boxes," Blair said, his voice flat.

"Really? Someone with your record?" a deep, harsh voice prodded. Papers rustled. "Let's just take a look, here. Over three years ago you were admitted to the hospital in critical condition for a near-fatal drug overdose after you shot up a police garage."

"Mr. Sandburg had done nothing illegal," a woman responded crisply, and Jim recognized the voice as the attorney's. "As the police and hospital records show, the drug overdose occurred when pizza tainted with Golden was delivered to Major Crime. My client has nothing to say on that matter."

"What she said," Blair muttered.

"All right. This next incident IS relevant. Approximately two years ago you were arrested for possession of heroin. A large quantity of it was in the trunk of your car, wasn't it?"

"Those charges were dropped," Ms. Inouye answered. "Mr. Sandburg had been kidnapped and his car stolen. In fact, he assisted with the capture of the perpetrators."

"It seems you just have a string of bad luck, Mr. Sandburg. Didn't the warehouse you were living in explode because of a meth lab?"

"Don't answer that, Mr. Sandburg."

"How is it that you consistently end up in the vicinity of illegal narcotics?"

"Uh... I work as a consultant with the police."

Jim smiled at that comment. Score one for Sandburg.

"And the meth lab in your home had to do with your work as a police consultant?"

"Your facts are incorrect," Ms. Inouye interrupted. "The meth lab was not in Mr. Sandburg's home."

"Ah, that's right. It was next door, wasn't it?"

"I didn't know what was going on there."

"Of course not. Just like you didn't have anything to do with your girlfriend Iris and her heroin, and just like you had no idea that marijuana was in those boxes. C'mon, Mr. Sandburg, we've asked around. We know you have a preference for natural remedies. What was it? You thought you were doing a good deed by providing medicinal marijuana to sick elderly people in need?"

"I didn't know that marijuana was in the boxes," Blair replied flatly.

"Really? Do you think a jury will believe--"

"I really don't want to answer any more questions. I've told you everything. I'm tired."

"I believe that concludes this interview. My client has nothing further to say." A chair scraped across the hard floor. "I expect that you will abide by Mr. Sandburg's wishes and not approach him with any other questions while I'm gone, and Mr. Sandburg, I'm advising you not to answer any questions and not to speak with anyone, not even your cell mates, without me present."

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Okay. I guess that's it for now. I don't have to tell you things don't look good for your client."

"Goodbye, Agent Matthews."

"I'll escort Mr. Sandburg back to his cell."

Jim plopped into the chair next to Simon. "Damn." The feds were twisting everything, making it look like Sandburg had a history with drugs.

"What is it, Jim?"

"They're pulling out all the stops, Captain." Jim shifted in his seat to face Simon. "They've brought up the Golden incident, the arrest for heroin after his kidnapping, and even the fact that the warehouse he'd lived in blew up because of the meth lab next door."

"Shit." Simon sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "That arrest was our screw up. We never should have put him through booking. Now, that mistake is coming back to slap us in the face."

"Yeah." Jim rose to his feet again. "They're taking him back to his cell. I'm going to talk to his attorney about bail."


As it turned out, the bail hearing came the next day. Jim, Simon, Rafe, Henri, Megan, and Joel were all present to lend their support. Blair, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front, sat at a table next to his attorney. Sara Inouye was the picture of calm professionalism, the petite Asian woman quietly explaining the proceedings to her client. One of the federal prosecutors and another man, who Jim assumed to be a young recruit based on his nondescript suit and rigid manner, sat at the neighboring table.

Jim kept his eyes on Blair while the prosecution presented its case as to why bail should be denied, or in the alternative, set at two hundred thousand dollars. Blair seemed content to stare at the table, his shoulders hunched. His hair was held back in a ponytail, leaving his face exposed, and Jim, although he was seated back and to the side, could see enough of the young man's expression to know that Blair was far from okay. He looked scared.

"And, as you can see," the prosecutor droned on, "with no family in the area and employment that has proven uncertain in the past, Mr. Sandburg presents a substantial flight risk."

Sara Inouye rose from her seat when the judge looked at her. "Mr. Sandburg has been living in Cascade for well over six years. He has been studying at Rainier during that time, and he's currently employed by both the university and the Cascade Police Department. He owns a condominium in the area, and he has made substantial ties to members of the community, including Detective James Ellison and Captain Simon Banks. The prosecution's allegations that Mr. Sandburg was involved in distributing marijuana to sick, elderly persons has been backed by very little evidence. In fact, during the DEA's surveillance and investigation over the course of the past two years into this ring, this is the first time any agent has witnessed Mr. Sandburg's presence in any activity associated with the drug ring. Considering that the arrest took place on campus in the very hall that..."

"Okay. Enough." The judge sighed. "Bail is set at $20,000." He slammed the gavel down and rose. "This hearing is adjourned."


Jim read the Jail Rules and Regulations posted on the wall for the hundredth time, barely noticing the words as he waited for Blair's release. When the electronic door lock buzzed, he turned but was disappointed that it was only Sara Inouye, straightening her well-fitting suit jacket as she approached him with a smile.

"Detective. Blair will be out in a few minutes."

"What's taking so long?"

"We had another little matter to take care of. They just served Blair with a search warrant for his residence and car. They also informed him that the University has given them permission to search his office, since it is University property they don't need Blair's permission. Agents are on their way right now to both locations."

"Damn! Excuse me for a moment."

Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed quickly.

"Simon, it's Ellison. They've gotten the search warrants for Blair's car, office, and home. Could you send someone over to the loft to keep an eye on them and take care of Libby until we get there, and someone to Rainier to do the same? Thanks. We should be out of here shortly. I'll be in touch."

The door buzzed again as he closed the phone and returned it to his pocket, and this time Blair walked out of the door, a large manila envelope in his hand. He raised tired eyes to meet Jim's.

"Hey, Jim."

"Hey, Chief, it's about time. Let's get out of here."

Blair reached over and shook the attorney's hand solemnly. "Thanks, Ms. Inouye, for your help."

"You're welcome. Now don't forget to stay near a phone or keep your cell phone handy. They can call you back for further questioning at any time. If they do, not a word without me, remember. And if you need anything or have any questions, you have my cell and pager numbers. Don't hesitate to call, any hour of the day or night."

"Thank you."

Jim reached over to shake her hand as well. "Yes, thank you very much. Come on, Chief, let's blow this Popsicle stand."

Just as Blair began to turn right toward the front doors, Jim stopped him with a hand on his elbow.

"Whoa, Chief. Not that way. We're taking the back way out. We should be able to avoid the press for now. And I've got Simon's car, just in case they'd be looking for the truck."

He couldn't help but notice the wince that Blair made at the mention of the press, and gently squeezed his arm. "Don't worry about it, Chief, we'll handle it."

The rest of the trip to the car was made in silence. After a quick peek out of the locked door, to thankfully find that no reporters were awaiting them, they hustled to the car and sped out of the parking lot.

Several blocks down the street, Jim broke the silence.

"Where to, Chief?"

"Home. Just home, please."

"I don't think that's such a good idea right now, Blair. They're executing the search warrants. Simon has someone keeping an eye on them, so there's no reason for you to be there and watch them make a mess of the place."

He didn't think it would have been possible, but Blair slumped even further down in the seat.

"Great. Just great," he murmured.

"Look, why don't we head over to Madge's and get some breakfast, my treat. I'm sure you could use a decent meal."

"I'm not really hungry, Jim."

"Humor me, okay, Chief? I need breakfast, and you need to eat to keep your strength up."

A bare nod of his head, and Blair continued to stare out of the window as they headed across town to their favorite restaurant.


Taking his change from the cashier, Jim pocketed it then followed Blair out to the parking lot.

"I wish you would have eaten more, Chief."

"It was good, Jim, thanks. Just wasn't hungry."

Jim's answer was cut off by the ringing of his cell phone. He stopped and flipped it open to reply.

"Ellison."

"Jim, it's Joel. They want to search your loft, too, since it's connected to Blair's apartment. They've already called to find a judge to issue an additional search warrant. I thought you'd want to know."

"Thanks, Joel. I'm on my way."

He slammed the phone shut and dropped it back into his pocket.

"Look, Blair, I'm going to drop you off at Major Crime, all right? I'll catch up with you later."

"What's up?"

"They're working up a warrant to search the loft, and I want to go and keep an eye on them. There's no need for you to be there, Joel's keeping an eye on your place."

"I'll go with you."

"Chief, why put yourself through it? If you're there, they'll try to get to you, try to get you to say something that will trip you up."

"Jim, I need to be there. Since I'm innocent, I can't say anything that will trip me up, now can I? And they're not gonna drag you into this, too, if there's anything I can do about it."

"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."

"Jim, I'm going home. If you don't want to take me, I'll call a cab, but I'm going."

Their eyes met, one pair shaded with concern and compassion, the other bright and cold with determination. Jim gave in with a sigh.

"All right, let's go. Don't forget what Sara said, not a word from you without calling her. And you stick with me or Joel, you hear me?"

Twenty minutes later, they exited the elevator. Joel spotted them and walked down the hall to join them, separating himself from the agent standing guard at Jim's door.

"Hey, guys. How are you doing, Blair?" he asked, lightly dropping a broad hand on a slumped shoulder and dipping his head to look into his friend's face.

"I'm okay, Joel. And Joel…Jim told me what you all did." His eyes spoke volumes, although his words were simple. "Thanks."

"You're welcome, Blair. We're all behind you, no matter what."

"Is Libby inside?"

"The Myers kid took her for you. He said she can stay as long as you need."

Jim cleared his throat. "So, Joel, where do we stand?"

"I think they're almost finished with Blair's place. They're just waiting for the warrant on yours."

"Who's in charge?"

"Brainerd, Nathan Brainerd. Rumor has it that he got booted out of a hot post in Washington, D.C. for being "overzealous" on a few cases, and he's working to get back. A real eager beaver, with an attitude."

"Great, just what we need. A fed with a chip on his shoulder and a personal agenda."

"You got it."

Jim squared his shoulders and approached the DEA agent standing at his doorway.

"I'm Detective James Ellison. And who might you be?"

"Special Agent Flinn, DEA."

"Well, Special Agent Flinn, this is my home and since you don't have a warrant, I expect you to get out of my way and let me enter my home. And as soon as I have determined whether anyone has entered my residence illegally, I'm going to accompany Mr. Sandburg here into his residence to be sure that it has not been damaged by your men. You got a problem with that, I suggest that you contact your agent in charge and have him meet us."

The agent stood open-mouthed for a moment, then stepped aside. It was obvious that he wasn't used to being challenged. "I'll let Agent Brainerd know right away."

"You do that."

Jim unlocked the door into the loft and ushered Blair inside, nodding at Joel who resumed his spot across the hall from the door, watching the DEA agent. He locked the door loudly behind them.

A quick glance around proved that nothing was amiss.

"All right, Chief, let's head downstairs and see what's happening. Remember, no matter what, keep your cool."

"I can handle it, Jim. Cool as a cucumber."

Both men headed down the spiral staircase into Blair's apartment. They were met at the bottom by an agent who stepped in front of them, blocking their progress into the room. They recognized Brainerd from the hearing at the federal building.

"Stop right there, you two. We're not done yet, Sandburg, so you're not going anywhere inside."

"Sandburg has a right to be present if he so chooses, as long as he doesn't interfere. You weren't planning on interfering, were you, Sandburg?"

"No."

"Then he stays."

Brainerd stared at the two men, who stared back silently.

"Detective Ellison, I hadn't realized just how close the two of you are. Working together and living together. No wonder you've been trying to stonewall my investigation. Afraid that we'll get the goods on both of you?"

"As you can see, we don't live together. We have separate residences. They just happen to be connected."

"Riiiight. Well, since you're here, why don't you just give us permission to search your separate residence."

"Why don't we just wait for the search warrant, Brainerd. We're in no hurry."

Brainerd walked off, muttering to himself, and they looked around Blair's apartment. Every drawer had been opened and the contents dumped out on the floor, every cabinet opened and emptied. Each item of furniture had been moved. As far as they could see, all of Blair's belongings lay strewn about the floor of the apartment.

Jim set a hand on Blair's shoulder. He didn't have to extend his senses much to feel Blair's heart pounding, his rapid breathing, and an occasional shudder ripple through him.

"Are you sure you want to stay, Chief?"

"I'm not going anywhere."

Brainerd approached them again.

"Well, well. Guess what was found in your Rainier office, Sandburg? Oh, right, you don't have to guess, it's yours. More marijuana."

"Brainerd, that's not conclusive and you know it. He's not the only one to use or have access to that office."

"Look, Ellison…."

A knock at the door interrupted the debate. A thin, dour-faced man walked in, flashing a badge.

"Weston, Internal Affairs. Good, it looks like everyone I need is here. Mr. Sandburg, even though you are not an officer, you are an employee of CPD and therefore subject to our policies and procedures. You have been placed on administrative suspension, pending the outcome of the DEA investigation and our own internal investigation. I'll take your CPD ID now, please."

Blair looked up at Jim, then slowly removed his ID badge from his pocket and handed it to the officer.

"Thank you. Detective Ellison, although you aren't officially partners with Mr. Sandburg, that has been your de facto relationship. As his partner, you are being placed on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigations."

"Desk duty?" Jim's face quickly flushed with anger. "You think I'm gonna ride a desk while these yahoos railroad Sandburg?"

"Jim…." Blair tried to interrupt.

"Quiet, Sandburg. I am not going to just shuffle papers while your freedom and your career are at stake."

"You don't have a choice, Detective. It's either that or administrative suspension for you, as well."

Jim lost no time in pulling out his gun and badge and slapping them into Weston's hand.

"Fine. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Weston."

Staring for a moment at the items in his hand, Weston looked up at each of them, then headed for the door.

"All right. Don't let me find out that you are interfering with the investigation, either of you. Agent Brainerd, please keep us informed."

Blair aimed a quick glance at Jim before he pulled out a chair and sat down at the counter. He spoke in a soft voice that only a Sentinel could hear.

"Gee, Jim, that went well."


Act Three


Joel stormed into the bullpen, hurrying past Rafe's desk, and stopped at the captain's office. He knocked twice.

"Come in."

Joel turned the knob and pushed inward, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. "Well, they've searched both apartments, Jim's and Blair's, and, um, Simon..."

"I know." Simon sighed and slid his fingers beneath his glasses, rubbing at his eyes. "They found marijuana in Sandburg's office. I was just on the phone with the feds and the D.A." His eyes were somber. "This looks bad, Joel."

"Damn. You think they'd figure that a guy smart enough to be getting his PhD wouldn't be stupid enough to leave marijuana around his office to be found." Joel sank into the chair in front of the desk. "What are we gonna do?"

An almost hesitant knock on the door interrupted them.

"Come," Simon barked.

The door swung inward and Rafe peeked his head inside. "Sir, uh... Turn the television to channel five."

"Shit. Please, no more bad news." Simon grabbed the remote off the edge of his desk and hit the power button, then quickly turned to the news channel.

A reporter was on screen, speaking into a microphone as she stood in front of Rainier's Hargrove Hall. A few young people carrying signs marched behind her. "Advocates of legalizing marijuana have denounced Mr. Sandburg's arrest, claiming that governmental restrictions on marijuana place unconstitutional restraints on basic human rights, including the most basic right of all, that to life."

The camera cut to a young woman wearing glasses, a backpack slung over her shoulder. "I don't think the government has any business telling people or their doctors what drugs they can and can't use. Those dying from cancer, AIDS, and other painful and progressive illnesses have the right to use marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Don't law enforcement officers have dangerous criminals to arrest instead of wasting taxpayer money on interfering with nonviolent, humanitarian efforts?"

"Great," Joel muttered, "if this press keeps up, it's not going to matter if they clear Sandburg of all charges. He's already known as a drug dealer."

"I know. Damn." Simon flicked off the television. "Have we located Scott Boyle yet, Rafe? I want him found now. Someone put marijuana in Sandburg's office, and the feds found it. I don't want to give the real perps another chance to plant any more evidence."

Rafe blinked. "Uh, when did they find marijuana in Sandburg's office?"

"Just a little while ago. Why?"

Rafe stepped further into the office and closed the door behind him. "Sir, Captain, I..." He swallowed hard.

"Yes, Rafe? Spit it out."

Rafe's eyes flickered from Joel to Simon. "You know that Sandburg's got a kind heart, and he's into natural remedies..."

Joel rose from his chair to face Rafe. "What are you getting at?" A note of suspicion laced his tone.

Rafe straightened. "Can we be so sure Sandburg wasn't involved? It is a humanitarian cause, and well, he has been known to... I mean... with the peyote-thing on that old murder case, and..."

Joel took a step forward. "Sandburg didn't do this. He says he didn't do this, and I think he's earned our trust by now, don't you?"

Rafe nodded. "Of course. I just... Well, the evidence is starting to look pretty compelling."

Simon rose abruptly from his chair. "I understand your point of view, Detective. We're going to continue to operate under the theory that someone is framing Sandburg. We're going to find Scott Boyle and figure out who this Gil character is that Sandburg mentioned. Understood?"

Rafe nodded. "Yes, sir."

"And Detective?"

"Yes, sir?"

Simon's expression softened. "It takes a good detective to take an objective look at facts even when a close friend is involved."

Rafe nodded. "Yes, sir." Slowly, he turned toward the door, opened it, and looked over his shoulder. "Thank you."


"Damn, I'm sorry, Jim." Blair scrubbed a hand over his face and dropped onto the cushionless sofa.

The loft was a mess. Every cushion had been torn off and the covers unzipped and removed. Every cabinet and drawer hung open, their contents chaos. Clothes had been flung out of the closets and meticulously searched. Every nook and every cranny of the loft had been searched.

The warrant had particularly described the places to be searched and the items to be searched for. Drugs and paraphernalia. Incriminating documents. Cash.

Those items were small and varied enough to be hidden almost anywhere, giving the agent's authorization to search any place in both apartments.

"It's not your fault, Chief." Jim walked slowly around the loft, closing drawers and cabinets and picking up items. "Don't worry about it. It's easy enough to clean up this mess."

"Not so easy," Blair muttered burying his face in his hands.

"Hey."

Blair felt a warm hand on his shoulder, then the couch shifted slightly as a weight descended.

"You okay?"

Blair dropped his hands and leaned back, limp, letting his eyes drift closed. "No." His throat tightened.

"We'll get through this, Blair. Just hang in there."

"I'm screwed, Jim." Blair lifted his head and looked at Jim, his gaze heavy and sad. "They've got enough evidence. My life is over. I'm going to be found guilty or have to plea bargain, and then I'll go to jail." His voice caught. A sob threatened. He shook his head. "And I'm already starting to take you down with me." He leaned forward and once again dropped his head in his hands.

A heavy arm slid across Blair's shoulders, and he felt himself pulled against Jim, the warmth of the other man's body penetrating his own.

"Listen to me, Blair." Jim's soft, strong voice rang in Blair's ear. "No matter what happens, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure you never again see the inside of a jail cell. Okay?"

Blair lifted his head slowly and looked at Jim, his eyes hot and puffy. He gave a slow, shaky nod.


Jim paced back and forth across the loft, the physical action doing nothing to reduce his anxiety over the maelstrom his partner seemed to be entrapped in. He focused his hearing on the apartment below, checking on Blair's current activity.

After the DEA investigators finished, and Joel had left with his own personal apologies, Jim sat down with Blair and asked him everything about what had happened at Rainier the day before. He listened quietly and took notes, not as if he could forget anything that was said. They went through everything twice, including physical descriptions of both the TA and the alleged Mobile Meals volunteer, as well as everything Blair ever knew about Boyle. He could see Blair becoming more and more quiet and despondent as they went on.

Once Blair had given him all of the information that he could remember, he helped Blair to clean up his apartment, after he'd declined a trip to their favorite pizza parlor for dinner. They'd tossed out a glass and a mug that had become cracked in the process, and Jim made a mental note to replace them at his earliest opportunity. After about half an hour, though, Blair could take no more, somberly thanking Jim for his help and asking to be left alone for a period of meditation. He'd promised to help Jim clean up the loft the next day, and again apologized for all of the trouble as he turned and walked away, shoulders slumped and head slightly bowed.

Now, as Jim listened, he could hear the soft echo of aboriginal music curling up the winding staircase, accompanied by a quiet sputtering of multiple candles. The gentle scents of vanilla and pine wafted upward as well. Sharpening his hearing, he could hear that Blair's breathing and heartbeat had finally slowed, not to the depth that he often reached during meditation, but a great improvement from the shallow, tense breathing and pounding heart that he'd been listening to for hours. Dammit, Blair shouldn't be worrying about anything more serious than whether his social life would be improved as a full-fledged PhD rather than your run-of-the-mill graduate student. Now that Blair seemed relatively safe and comfortable, it was time to get busy.

He picked up the phone and dialed Suzanne Tomaki at Rainier, who regretfully confirmed his expectation that Blair had been banned from campus pending results in the investigation against him. She cheerfully pointed out, though, that Jim had not been banned and that the Chancellor had left for the day long before. Making arrangements to meet at Hargrove Hall in half an hour, Jim quietly sneaked out, locking the door behind him.

Suzanne unlocked Blair's office door and stepped back after flipping the light switch. Jim registered her quick intake of breath as the lights came up to reveal an even worse mess than had been made in their apartments.

"Oh, Jim…."

Jim gritted his teeth as he surveyed the room. Anything that could be identified as Blair's had been moved or tossed; papers had been strewn everywhere. Black fingerprint powder dusted many a surface. He didn't bother with gloves as he searched, as he knew that his fingerprints were already all over the room. Suzanne stayed back and out of the way as he worked through the room, stretching his senses and doing his own thorough search, finding only a tiny scent of marijuana. Had Blair actually had any significant amount of pot in his office, considering that he always kept his door closed, the odor would have been much stronger.

When asked, Suzanne showed him the evidence receipt slips that had been given to her as a representative of the university. He scanned through them, recognizing descriptions of several of Blair's artifacts, as well as his appointment calendar, class schedules and floppy disks. Looking around the room, he seemed to remember the location of an ugly lidded clay pot that seemed to be missing, identified on one of the slips as having contained a small baggie of marijuana, in the general vicinity of the faint scent that he had spotted earlier.

"This was it? One little baggie, found in a clay pot right on top of the front shelves? Even Blair could do a better job of hiding a stash, if it was his."

Suzanne nodded. "I thought that was pretty obvious, myself. I insisted on staying and observing; even though they didn't want me here, they couldn't refuse a representative of the university as long as I didn't get in their way. To be honest, they seemed a bit frustrated that they couldn't find more. I think that's part of the reason for the mess; they were just being obnoxious when they couldn't find more."

"I believe it." Jim looked around once more, then wiped his hands on his slacks. "Now where can I find Scott Boyle's office?"

"Jim, I don't know…"

"Look, Suzanne, you know as well as I do that Sandburg is innocent of all this. He could no more push pot than you could be a serial killer. Help us out here. Sandburg has deliberately kept from giving Boyle's name to the DEA investigators, to give us a chance to find him first. If those DEA jerks find Boyle first, they'll be happy to get him to roll over on Blair to save his own hide, and close the investigation. I can't let that happen. "

After a long moment of searching his face, she finally gave in.

"All right, he's up in 203a. I'll take you up. I haven't seen him around since Blair's arrest, so I'm not sure you'll find anything useful there."

They trudged side by side up the stairs and quickly located 203a. With a glance around to make sure that no one was watching, Suzanne located the appropriate key and let Jim in.

She closed the door before turning the light on, then suppressed a yawn as Jim eagerly pulled out a pair of latex gloves and began searching the room. Although he was unable to locate any marijuana, there was a persistent odor in several areas of the room, as though marijuana was often stored there or someone who frequently handled or smoked it used the room. Jim powered up the computer, only to find that all but the usual application files were password protected. He picked up a couple of disks from the desk and tried them, but found nothing other than class notes and drafts for papers on the accessible disks. There were others that were also password protected. Jim was not enough of an expert to get past the protection, but made a mental note that there was potential evidence there. He worked his way through every inch of the office's contents.

Suzanne interrupted with a clearing of her throat.

"Look, Jim, I've got to go and do a sweep of the campus, I've already missed two. I can't leave you in here unsupervised, no matter how much I want to help…"

"That's all right, Suzanne, you've been a huge help already. And I don't want to do anything to endanger your job. But I know this guy is involved, and I'm gonna find him and clear Sandburg."

He reluctantly followed her out of the office and watched her lock it behind them.

"Sorry I couldn't do more. Tell Blair that I'm keeping a good thought for him, okay?"

"You bet, Suzanne. Look, I'm gonna make a stop in the men's room on the way out. Let me know if anything comes up, will you?"

She patted him on the arm before she headed down the hallway. "You've got it, Jim."

He waited just long enough in the men's room to listen to Suzanne make her way out of the building and pull away in her Campus Police car. Just barely cracking open the door, spotting no student activity in the hall, he quietly exited.

Turning up his sense of smell, he walked slowly down the hallway. Trying to tune out the lingering odor of marijuana from the office behind him, he extended his senses and found another source of the distinctive fragrance in a nearby storage room. The smell was noticeably stronger, even through the scents of multiple cleaning products, and he guessed that it had been a regular supply room for the real perpetrators and could possibly still be holding some drugs.

Jim pulled a set of lockpicks from his jacket, carefully manipulating them to open the lock, then using his handkerchief to turn the knob and gain entrance to the closet. The strong odor of cleaning supplies assailed him, but as he tuned it out, the unmistakable smell of marijuana stood out clearly. Again using his handkerchief to move aside mops and brooms, he found his target in the second of four cases of bathroom cleanser. It looked just like the others, but the smell, almost overpowering to his sensitive nose, belied its appearance. He thought for a moment and left the room, locking the door carefully behind him.

Just as he decided on his plan of action, the slam of the heavy front door of the building and the sound of approaching footsteps stopped him in his tracks. Students and professors didn't usually come to Hargrove Hall to start their day at 5:30 in the morning. He quickly ran into the men's room so he could dive into a stall if necessary. The footsteps stopped at the second floor and hurried past him, and he opened the door a crack.

He watched as a red-headed young man matching the description that Blair had given swiftly entered Boyle's office and pulled the door closed behind him. Jim instinctively reached behind him for his weapon, finding only the small of his back instead of his well-worn holster. He began to reach for his back-up gun in the uncomfortable ankle holster when he had another idea. The cell phone came out of his jacket pocket and he hit the speed dial.

"Banks…"

"Simon, it's Ellison."

"Do you know what time it is?"

"Um, late, I mean early. Look, Simon, I've located Boyle. I'm at Rainier and he's just entered his office."

The voice on the other end of the phone was suddenly more awake.

"Jim, be careful. Don't do anything stupid. He may be Sandburg's only chance."

"I know that, Simon. Look, I'm gonna hang back and follow him when he leaves. He might lead us to his partners, or at least more evidence to exonerate Sandburg. I'll keep you informed."

"I'll get Rafe and Brown up and on it. Call when you find anything, so they can back you up and make the arrest. We don't want the feds to try to toss anything out because they consider you a possible suspect yourself."

"I hear you, Simon. I'll keep in touch."

Returning the phone to his pocket and pulling out his back-up, Jim resumed his surveillance of Boyle's office. Forty-five minutes later, filled with mumbling, cursing, and slamming from behind the door, the TA turned out his light and left his office, carrying a worn, nylon backpack that he hadn't held earlier.

Boyle scuttled nervously down the hall, darting glances around as he approached the storage closet. Opening the closet door with a key, he disappeared inside. Jim let his hearing follow the young man and heard the rustling of a trash bag, the shifting of boxes, and what sounded like several items being dropped into the plastic bag. The student left the closet and headed down the hallway, the filled trash bag bumping against his leg. Jim trailed him carefully until Boyle reached the parking lot and climbed into an old Toyota. Jim then jogged over to his own truck parked in a dim area of the lot and pulled out the cell phone again as he started her up.

"Simon, Ellison…yeah, everything's all right. Boyle left with a full backpack from his office, along with a trash bag full of boxes from a storage closet just down the hall. Call Suzanne Tomaki at Rainier and tell her to check out that closet. It was locked and Boyle had a key. Ask her if she can call the feds and tell them she got an anonymous report of a sighting of Boyle there, and watch over them as they investigate. If they don't find any of Sandburg's prints in there, and he doesn't have a key, it should help his case a lot. What…yes, I'm following him now, heading east on Western and crossing 47th. He's driving a '85 or '86 silver Toyota, plate number 493 MGJ. Have Rafe and Brown head out in this direction and I'll call them directly when we arrive somewhere…No, don't tell Sandburg yet, I don't want to get his hopes up if nothing pans out. Talk to you later."

Jim focused on following the old Toyota through the quiet early-morning streets, responding when Rafe and Brown checked in and directing them to join him near a small, rundown house twenty minutes from the university. They climbed out and joined Jim standing behind the truck.

"What have we got, Jim?"

"I cased the house before you got here. I couldn't hear or see signs of anyone else being inside."

"Damn," Rafe cursed. "I'd hoped he'd lead us to his partners. I just can't believe that this kid is in it all by himself, or decided to frame Sandburg all on his own."

"I don't think so either, Rafe, but this could still work to our advantage. If we can snatch him up and spend some quality time with him before either his partners or the feds find out, we may be able to get more out of him and convince him that it's in his best interest to cooperate."

"Works for me, Jim," Henri smiled. "Are we ready?"

"Why don't you take the back, Henri, and Rafe, you take the front. I'll let you two get him under control before I join you. I don't want to sour the deal, you two have to be the arresting officers."

As they prepared to approach the house, Jim noticed the lights going off.

"Damn! Get down," he hissed as he dropped behind the truck.

They watched in frustration as the young man walked briskly to his car, the trash bag in his hand. He climbed in, started up, and backed out of his driveway, turning and driving in the opposite direction from the waiting detectives.

"Okay, here's plan two. Let's tail him, I'll take the lead since I can see him better. You guys follow me. Call Simon and fill him in, and ask him to get a couple of plain clothes officers out here to keep the house under surveillance. I don't think we want to move in to the house until we know more about Mr. Boyle."

"Right behind you, Jim," Rafe answered as they jogged back to their car.

Minutes later, they watched and waited at a small nondescript brick building that bore a black and white sign "Mobile Meals, a Not For Profit Organization.'" Boyle came back out almost immediately, carrying a large cardboard box with its top flap open to reveal a number of smaller white boxes, the same kind of box that Blair had been caught loading into a Mobile Meals van two days before.

The train of vehicles started back up, and they followed Boyle again, this time into the suburbs. He pulled up in front of a small but neatly maintained frame house, notable for the wheelchair ramp that had been added to access the front porch. Boyle exited his car, carrying two of the white boxes, and made his way up the steps. Ringing the doorbell, he only had to wait a few moments before being let into the home.

Again, Rafe and Henri joined Jim at the truck.

"I don't want to wait any longer. Let's see if we can catch him in the act. You two take the lead, and I'll follow you in. Let's be sharp, remember that Sandburg is counting on us."

Jim lagged back, waiting until the others had entered the house and for his name to ring out, before joining them in the house. He'd noticed the name on the mailbox on his way in. Henri had already taken the lead.

"Now Mrs. Sanderson, as I said, we're with Cascade Police, and we just want to talk with you and with Mr. Boyle here about his deliveries…"

He practically tuned out the discussion as he glanced around. The house was spotless, but threadbare. There was little furniture here in the living room, but there were numerous items of medical equipment. Beneath the sterile odor of antiseptic, and the odor coming from the white boxes and their carrier, he stepped back abruptly as his sense of smell was overwhelmed by the stench of illness. Illness, and impending death.

Jim glanced at the frail woman seated in the wheelchair, following the discussion in the room with confusion. Now that he took a second look, he recognized the yellowish gray tint to skin stretched too thin over old bones, the tint of great age, or of terminal disease.

He forced himself to return his attention to the interrogation of Boyle.

"Mr. Boyle, I’m Detective Ellison of the Cascade Police Department. You’re aware that we have a warrant to search the boxes you’re delivering."

Boyle gulped and nodded, glancing nervously at the old woman. "He showed it to me." Boyle gestured to Henri, then to the box. "Go ahead. Open it. You’ll find marijuana. I swear I’m only delivering the stuff to people like Mrs. Sanderson who need it. She’s got terminal cancer. The drug helps with the pain and nausea."

Jim sighed, his eyes lingering on Mrs. Sanderson. She sat quietly in her chair, her thin fingers picking at a thread on her faded blue skirt. Her white hair was thin and scattered, her skull almost bald, and her sunken cheekbones gave her a gaunt, weak appearance.

Jim knew the woman didn’t have much longer to live. He looked up at Rafe and Brown. They were both keeping their eyes off the woman, and the fine lines on their faces told Jim they were having a hard time with this new development.

Jim turned his attention back to Boyle. Even if the kid’s motives were humanitarian, he had gotten Blair involved in this, so he wasn’t entirely the nice guy he portrayed.

"Mr. Boyle," Jim kept his tone hard, "why did you frame Blair Sandburg?" He went for the direct line of questioning. If he could get Boyle to admit, in front of three detectives and an old lady, that Blair was innocent, the nightmare might finally end.

"I… I didn’t. I mean, I saw the news. I just…. I’m sorry." He sighed and sank to the sofa. "It was Gil. I… I didn’t want to get involved in all this. It started out being just a little bit here and there for the sick folks, but Gil found out what I was doing and threatened to turn me in unless I started helping him with deliveries. Then, he got Blair involved. I didn’t know he was setting Blair up. I swear. Blair’s a nice guy. I’d never do anything like this to him…not on purpose, I mean."

Jim felt some of his anger dissolve. He’d been a cop long enough to develop pretty good instincts about suspects, and he believed the kid was telling the truth. "Look, Boyle, we can see about getting the D.A. to cut you a deal, but you’re gonna have to roll over on Gil. Tell us everything you know. Sandburg’s out on bail right now, but he’s facing some serious charges if—"

Boyle’s head snapped up. "Blair’s out?"

"Yeah."

"No!"

Boyle rose quickly to his feet, and Jim saw Henri place his hand closer to his revolver. He gave a subtle shake of his head, and Henri relaxed.

"Detective, you gotta protect him." Boyle lost all color in his face.

Jim stiffened, his heart jumping into overdrive in the face of Boyle’s fear. "Why? What’s wrong?"

"It’s Gil. He… He scares me. He’s cold. A killer. If Blair’s out on bail and Gil wants him to take the fall, he’s probably going to try to kill him so the case stops there. There’ll be no trial and less risk that the truth will come out."

"Damn." Jim flashed a worried look at Henri and Rafe as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Blair’s apartment. After four rings, when he got no answer, he hung up and tried Blair’s cell phone. It rang until the voice mail picked up.

"No answer," he told the two Detectives. "Get a patrol unit here to deal with this. We need to find Sandburg." Jim looked back to Boyle. "Do you have any idea where Gil might be right now?"

Boyle shook his head. "I’m sorry. No, but you’ve gotta find Blair. Fast."

"I know."


Act Four


The doorbell rang, jarring Blair awake. He opened his eyes, jerking his head, and realized he was curled on his side on the floor in front of the couch. Candles, their flames low, burned on the table, bathing the dim room in a soft light.

The buzzer rang again. With a groan, Blair sat up and pulled his legs beneath him, then pushed himself to his feet. "Coming!"

He hoped it wasn't another DEA agent or reporter. He just wanted to be left alone. Going to the door, he looked through the peephole and saw a man dressed in a Federal Express uniform, his blue cap hanging low over his face.

Blair frowned. What now? Some kind of official legal letter? A package? Would it be good news or bad news? He really couldn't handle any more bad news at the moment.

Sliding the chain off the lock, he opened the door. His froze when he found himself looking at the barrel of a large handgun equipped with a silencer. Blair swallowed hard and raised his arms. He immediately recognized the gunman as Barry Gil, the guy Scott had been involved with.

His heart thudded in his chest. Where was Jim?

"Hello, Mr. Sandburg."

Gil moved forward, and Blair's eyes dropped from the gun to the small, black duffel bag in Gil's other hand. Blair stepped back and glanced upward. Jim, c'mon, man, tell me you hear this.

"What do you want?" Blair asked loudly.

"Oh, don't bother. I've had surveillance on this place. Your detective friend left a little while ago."

Blair's lungs stopped working for a moment, and his chest tightened. Gil closed the door behind him and, without looking away, reached his hand back and turned the lock on the doorknob.

"What are you doing here?" Blair asked, trying to keep his voice calm.

His mind was racing. When had Jim left, and why hadn't he said anything? How was he going to get himself out of this alive?

"If you shoot me, it'll start an investigation." Blair swallowed, trying to wet his suddenly dry mouth. "They'll find out about you."

"Oh, I know that." Gil gestured with the gun. "Turn around, lie down on the ground and put your hands behind your head."

Blair hesitated, tensing. He had little to lose. He had to try to take the man now. If he allowed himself to be put in such a vulnerable position….

"Now." Gil raised the gun, pointing the barrel squarely at Blair's chest.

Blair's hopes sank. With the gun so well-aimed and Gil obviously expecting Blair to react, his chance to escape had just shrunk dramatically. If he tried something now, he'd likely die. If he waited, maybe an opportunity would present itself, or maybe Jim would show up, or maybe…

God, he was probably never going to see Jim or his mother again. "Shooting me will spoil whatever plan you've got."

Gil smiled. "I can always think up something later to fit that particular development. Of course, it won't be as clean as what I've got planned now, but it'll work. So quit stalling or else I will just put a bullet through your brain. Why do you think I brought the silencer?"

"R-Right." Blair's breathing started to spiral out of control. "Okay." He needed to do something, but at the moment, nothing came to mind.

Slowly, he turned around, then dropped carefully to his knees. He lowered himself onto his stomach and laced his hands behind his head.

Blair heard the hiss of a zipper opening, followed by the rustle of fabric. Moments later, a shadow on the floor told him that Gil was hovering over him, then he felt a large, warm hand wrap around his wrist and pull his arm down.

He couldn't let himself be restrained. If he did, he was dead.

He tensed, ready to strike, knowing it would probably result in his death, anyway, when something soft covered his nose and mouth and, before he knew what was happening, he'd inhaled a lung full of something that instantly made his head spin. The room went black for a moment, and when his head started to clear, his hands were behind his back, and a soft, fleecy material bound his wrists. Blair twisted his head enough to see the edge of a leather strap. His stomach churned, and he felt himself trembling.

Oh, God, the guy was really going to kill him.

"Please, don't do this." Blair closed his eyes.

"You know, they all ask me that. I give them the same answer." He chuckled as he pulled Blair's other arm down and fastened the remaining restraint.

"This is really quite a nice little plan. Neat. Clean. No mistakes. I'm not even leaving a note. It'll fit perfectly. Blair Sandburg, disgraced once again and facing years in prison, takes his own life. No one will even question it."

Blair gritted his teeth. "Jim will know what happened. He'll hunt you down."

"I'll be long gone, and even assuming you're right, he won't be able to prove a thing. Now, just wait there a moment while I finish the rest of the set-up."


Jim dialed as he ran toward the truck. He'd reached the truck and slid behind the wheel by the time Simon answered.

"Captain, Boyle thinks Gil's going after Sandburg." Jim slammed his door shut and started the engine, squealing away from the curb. "I can't reach him, and he was home when I left. Can you send units to the loft and the university?"

"You got it, but isn't he banned from Rainier?"

"Yeah, but just in case. I can't think of anywhere else he'd be. If Gil's snatched him and taken him somewhere else..."

"I'll put out an A.P.B."


Blair's heart hammered against his breastbone. He lay on his back, his cheek pressed to the floor, a gag in his mouth, watching as Gil stood on a small ladder and draped a rope to one of the thick pipes on the ceiling.

"Okay." Lowering himself to the floor, Gil grabbed one of the kitchen chairs and positioned it beneath the noose, then smiled down at Blair. "I think that's everything." He flexed his gloved hands. "When they find you, there'll be no sign of foul play. No forced entry. No bruises. It'll be clean and easy. Law enforcement types like easy, don't you agree?"

Blair couldn't reply, so he didn't try. Gil stepped over to him, leaned down, and grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt, hauling him to his feet. Blair eyed the noose dangling low in front of him, his breath coming in short, quick gasps. The gag seemed suffocating, and he suddenly felt light-headed.

"Come on." Gil yanked him forward.

Blair shook his head and stepped back, tugging against Gil's grip.

"Don't start with me!" Gil yanked harder, and Blair stumbled forward.

Gil caught him by the shoulders before he could fall and helped him upright. "Look, don't make this any harder. I was hoping to get out of here by six."

Blair yelled through the gag, trying to move backward, but Gil held him firmly.

"Okay, we do this the hard way." Gil pulled Blair forward again and grabbed the dangling noose.

Blair tried to back away, but Gil was strong, and it took him less than a second to slip the large noose over Blair's head.

"Okay." Gil smiled, breathing slightly fast, and grabbed the loose end of the rope. "Now, all I gotta do is pull. Goodnight."

Gil heaved hard, and the rope went taut, yanking Blair forward. The rope dug against the tender flesh of his neck, and as Gil continued to pull hand-over-hand on the rope, Blair found himself being forced upward.

He rose on to the tips of his toes, trying to prolong the inevitable. His lungs screamed for air, and still the rope rose higher, digging beneath his chin and forcing his head up. His feet lost contact with the floor, and he kicked his legs, his body swinging.

Black dots swirled in his vision, and he jerked several times, desperate for air. A terrible pressure rose in his skull, and his eyes felt ready to pop out of their sockets.

He heard a crash. Someone yelled. An explosion ripped through the air, and suddenly he was falling. He hit the floor hard. The noose loosened but still remained uncomfortably snug around his neck. He lay there, gasping, the floor pressing against his cheekbone. Air tore painfully into his lungs, and he curled into a ball. He instinctively tried to raise his hands to his neck, but the restraints kept them securely behind his back.

Someone else's hands went to his neck. The noose loosened, then slipped over his head. He felt his shoulders being lifted, and a solid body replaced the hard floor, cradling him with warmth.

"You're okay, Chief."

That familiar voice sent shivers of relief through Blair. He looked up, his vision clouded, and saw Jim's face through a shimmer of wetness. His throat on fire, he couldn't manage speech, so he dropped his head to Jim's solid shoulder and closed his eyes, letting the tears slide down his cheeks as he listened to the strong heartbeat beneath his ear.


Jim held Blair close, listening to the young man's tortured breathing. He kept an ear tuned for the approaching siren that would signal the ambulance's arrival. He'd beaten the black-and-whites by seconds, but the uniforms had arrived moments after he'd shot Gil. The officers moved quietly around him, securing the scene and preparing the body.

The scent of cigar floated into the loft, and moments later, Jim heard Simon's deep voice.

"My God. Is he all right?"

Jim nodded, "Yes, sir." He felt Blair pull away from him, so he looked down. "How're you doing, Chief?"

Blair shook his head, his eyes rimmed with red, and glanced over his shoulder at Gil's corpse.

"What happened?" Simon crouched in front of them.

Jim answered, knowing Blair probably couldn't manage much, if any, speech at the moment. "I got here and found Gil strangling Blair with that rope." He jerked to the noose resting in a pile on the floor a foot away. "I had my gun drawn and ordered him to stop. He raised his weapon. I fired."

Simon turned to look at the body. A large handgun equipped with a silencer lay next to his outstretched hand. Blood pooled around the man's chest.

"Damn." Simon looked back at them, his eyes going to the red, swollen flesh on Blair's neck, then to the restraints still fastened around his wrists. "Can I take these off of you?"

Blair nodded, and Jim offered a grateful smile. He was just about to get to those himself, but he'd known that Blair needed the human contact first.

Reaching out quickly, Simon's fingers tugged gently at the buckle on the right cuff, pulling it out and letting the leather fall away from Blair's wrist. Then, he took off the other cuff.

With a grateful sigh, Blair pulled his arms in front of him and rubbed at his wrists, which Jim figured was more of a psychological gesture since the sheepskin padding hadn't caused any damage.

"Th--" Blair coughed and leaned against Jim. "Thanks." The word came out hoarse and scratchy, and he winced before coughing again.

"It's okay, Chief." Jim rubbed his hand along Blair's back. "Boyle told us everything, and with Gil's attempt on your life, we've got all we need to tie Gil solidly to the drug ring and clear your name. And I'm sure once we get his prints, we'll find a lot more useful information."

Simon nodded. "That's right, which means you're officially off suspension, Jim, and Sandburg, you're back as a consultant. You let me take care of Rainier, okay?" A tiny smile touched his mouth. "You're going to get a very public exoneration and still have time to prepare for your graduation." He leaned forward. "Okay?"

Renewed tears touched Blair's eyes. He gave a shallow smile and nodded.

"The ambulance is here," Jim announced, patting Blair's arm. He tilted his head, listening to the voices on the sidewalk below. "And so is the press."

"Well, good." Simon rose to his feet. "They've been so busy trashing Sandburg's reputation, it's about time they get something right." He turned to the uniforms. "When the coroner gets here, you make sure the press gets a lot of nice shots of this jerk's body being loaded. Got that?"

Two "yes, sirs!" answered him, and Simon nodded curtly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make a statement to the newshounds down there -- a nice, looong statement with lots of good things about Major Crime's favorite consultant."

Jim smiled as Simon turned to leave. "Thank you, sir."


Epilogue


Jim was sitting in a sea of people, next to the only person he knew in the audience, Naomi Sandburg. The first twenty-five rows in the round amphitheatre were filled with students about to receive their degrees, the largest mass being undergrads, with the Master and Ph. D. candidates having pride of place in rows one and two. Jim craned his neck, trying to see his partner, but although he knew Blair was down there, the sheer volume of bodies between the guests in the uppermost tiers and the man he was looking for made it impossible to spot him. Jim had sentinel sight, but not X-ray vision. He had to settle for vague discontent.

Naomi grabbed his hand in a death grip. Jim flinched, but bent to listen to her.

"I'm so nervous, Jim!" she whispered in the din of conversation and hailing shouts from all around the room. "It's taken so long for him to get here. Last year, I was thinking he'd get his doctorate then, but, well...." Her voice trailed off as a cloud of guilt settled over her delicate features. She clearly had not processed her feelings about the fiasco she had created by releasing her son's original dissertation draft to an unscrupulous publisher.

"Hey," Jim said comfortingly. He was grateful for the training Blair had given him; the dials permitted him to survive in the hullabaloo and fine-tune his hearing to Naomi's level. "That's in the past. Things are coming together now. Let it be. Just let it be."

"Let it be," Naomi echoed. "Let it be."

Jim looked back over his shoulder. "Take a look up there, Naomi."

She turned and gasped. Somehow, within the prior ten minutes and after the final seating of the guests, a cadre of photographers, video camera operators and people all talking into their cell phones, had materialized behind them.

"See," Jim said. "When Blair gets his diploma, it will be news all over the world. You weren't wrong about how good, how revolutionary, his diss was. Now, everyone will know it too." He patted her hand, and pried it off his own.

Naomi sat back. "Let it be. Let it be. Let it be." The mantra seemed to soothe her. That was all Jim asked for.

He stared around the rear of the hall and found most of those whom he had been looking for. In the wake of an adamant refusal to grant Blair more than the standard two passes given every student for their parents or loved ones, Suzanne Tomaki had come up trumps for them. She'd gotten most of the MC personnel assigned as crowd control, a battery against a tsunami of reporters washed into Cascade, and Rainier University in particular. Rafe and Brown were covering the main access, Joel and Megan the private access from the robing rooms, and at the front access, just inside the doors, Rhonda and Daryl (with a camera in hiding) stood as unofficial guests.

Simon Banks, Captain of Major Crime, wasn't with his son, though, and that mystified Jim. He knew that their good friend wanted to be there for Blair. It made Jim smile to think of the skullduggery Simon had engaged in on Blair's behalf, evading the hungry newshounds hot on the heels of the most newsworthy individual in Cascade; and picking up Blair's robes and bonnet on his behalf. His partner had spent two hours of sheer panic that morning before Simon brought the august finery over, and then another hour of insanity trying to fit his bonnet over his curls, before realizing it would look best if he left his hair down.

It had taken Jim a good twenty minutes of settling the problems with the lay of the hood and the tilt of the bonnet, before his partner could relax enough to remember that time was short. That sent him into a near-anxiety attack, and Jim hustled him out the back door and into his father's borrowed town car with the tinted windows, so as to fox the press. But the thought of the few things that might have kept Simon Banks away from the ceremony, after all the trouble he had gone to, was not a pleasant one.

Again, Jim had to settle for vague discomfort.

He had only a few moments to stew. The crowd of journalists was getting rowdy, and catcalls came from round about the pit, demands that the proceedings get started, or that the unwanted press attention be diverted elsewhere, or just general, adrenaline-pumped high spirits, became louder and nastier as time went by. By the looks of the stately gentleman who approached the huge podium on the central dais, the unruly mob was about to be hauled into line.

The man tapped the mike, ostensibly to determine if it was live, causing a mean feedback whine, which had more hearers than Jim ouching, though he ouched the most. The man spoke. "Silence. Silence, please." The roar receded a decibel, not enough. "Silence!" Again the reduction of noise was insufficient. Then Stentor yelled. "SILENCE, PLEASE!" Augmented by the audio equipment, the shout could have been heard in Seattle. It worked its magic. The hall quieted to rustles and shuffling. It was enough.

Stentor introduced himself. "Hello. I am John Perchoff, President of Rainier University." A slight ripple of applause stayed his next words a moment. "Welcome to the graduates, their guests, our alumni and others at this, the 109th Convocation of Rainier University."

More and noisier clapping ensued, as their guests saluted the grads. The President gestured with pushing open hands, and the clapping died away. "Now that we have silence, we can get on with things. Please remember that I will have no recourse except to exclude all persons but the graduates themselves from the building if complete silence from the audience cannot be maintained." He stepped back from the podium and waited. The room was holding its collective breath.

The President stepped up to the mike again. "Good. Let's get things underway."

A stream of robed, hooded and capped or bonneted academics filtered onto the stage, the black gowns and richly colored hoods and headgear lending sumptuousness to the ceremony. Jim's discontent vanished in the atmosphere of grandeur, the vestments of the participants a visual link to generations of scholars over the centuries, all striving in the pursuit of knowledge. Jim had a sense of the fitness of things. It's been a long haul on a bumpy road to get here, but I'm willing to take all the time in the world to see you receive the fruits of your labors. This is for you, buddy. I'm here for you.

Beside him, Naomi had relaxed, her breathing slowed, and all around the rows, people were hushed in anticipation.

The President gave his opening commencement speech; acknowledged the presence of their mayor, Charlotte Hanratty (in a red power suit and black pumps); and announced a series of awards for academic excellence. At last, the lower diplomas were granted. The Dean of each discipline took his or her place at the mike, calling out the name of each student, robed already and a few with mortarboards and tassels. Each mounted the side stair at the right of the podium and crossed to receive a scroll tied with satin, symbolizing the real degree, which would be delivered by mail sometime in the following few weeks. The tassel on a mortarboard, if worn, was twitched over to indicate the new status of the grad, and the student left the stage. Each one was applauded, and Jim smiled again at the thought that it really wasn't all about him, or all about Sandburg either, no matter what turmoil they had faced in getting to this point; every successful student had the reward he or she had strived for, and Jim clapped for them all.

The flow of Bachelor's degrees seemed never-ending. Rainier was a choice and well-thought-of university in North American academia. It taught many students, and taught them well. The pride of the recipients and their guests swelled up, tier by tier, and the excitement made Jim itchy to see Blair invested with his doctorate. A nervous Naomi was hanging onto Jim's suit coat, and he smiled down at her reassuringly.

But finally, the moment arrived when all the Bachelor's degrees had been handed out. The valedictorian of the graduating class had spoken, and the salutatorian had read her speech. The time for the post-grad honors to be acknowledged had come.

The Master's degrees were next on the list. Again, the prizes came before the awarding of the diplomas, and the main difference between the two stages of academic achievement was in the hood the candidates wore up to the dais. Each discipline boasted different colors and color combinations, some gaudy, some understated, but all testified to the wealth and breadth of human knowledge gained by the dedication of the wearers and their forerunners to study, research and teaching. The line was much smaller, only thirty or so graduates taking their M.A.'s or M.S.'s or M.S.W.'s and the like, but the applause was hearty, all the grads and their guests well aware of what it had taken for the students to achieve the scholastic rank.

After what had seemed like an eon, it was the turn of the Ph.D. candidates in Anthropology, of which there were only nine. Jim and Naomi both leaned forward, waiting for the announcements of the prizes. Jim was sure in his heart that Blair must have copped them all, and Naomi's proud face proclaimed that as fact.

President Perchoff stepped up to the mike. He read off the awards for excellence in specific areas of anthropology, such as research in forensic anthropology, distinction in linguistics, advancement of the science of archaeology and the like, none of them appropriate for Blair Sandburg.

The university's own awards came next. Jim and Naomi leaned forward. "The Bursar's Award for academic excellence in Anthropology is awarded to Tyrone Dempsey."

Jim and Naomi frowned.

"The Dean's Award for outstanding achievement in anthropology goes to Paulette Burgogne."

Jim and Naomi frowned more deeply.

"Finally, the President's Award for service to the university in the pursuance of the discipline of anthropology...."

Jim and Naomi caught their breath.

"...Goes to Lee Harding."

All over the hall, there was a stir, the press buzzing like hornets, comments made sotto voce about how the 'distinguished' Blair Sandburg had been passed over for distinction in the awards ceremony.

"I WILL HAVE SILENCE" came the President's roar again. The hall cut its volume in half, but the mutterings went on. It was good enough for the President. He started reading off the names of the Ph. D. candidates and one by one, they came up to be invested by their Dean with the sapphire blue velvet bonnet, tasseled in gold.

Jim and Naomi took no notice of the honors attached to the degrees of Burgogne, Dempsey or Harding, but they were at the edge of their seats waiting until "Blair Sandburg" was called out, last of the nine.

"Summa cum laude," Dean announced, and the hall was filled with applause for its own, homegrown academic hero.

Blair could finally be seen mounting the stairs. He was gorgeous in his black robes with the sapphire- and ice-blue-edged hood. To Jim's careful eyes, his normal exuberance was replaced with a sedate sterility. His best friend had been frenetic that morning, checking two and three times over that he had his rented gown, hood and bonnet safe in their plastic sheathes, and that Simon and the university hadn't sent him the wrong ones. This dampening of his friend's high spirits looked to Jim like disappointment rather than an entry into the solemnity of ages the graduation exercise invoked. Jim was certainly disappointed, and Naomi had tears on her face, quietly sobbing, half happy and half sad, he thought.

When he claimed his 'diploma', and the blue velvet bonnet was pulled securely over his curls, Blair thanked the Dean and smiled tightly at the President. He began to move away. He reached the stairs on the opposite side of the stage, and while he reseated himself in the rows, the applause began to die down. In its place were the sounds of people preparing to pick up and leave.

Again, the President called authoritatively for silence, and got it. Turning to the mass of guests and reporters, Pershoff said, "There is one last announcement to be made on behalf of this college. We at Rainier University have had the great good fortune to have one outstanding scholar amongst us, someone who not only has displayed excellence in his scholastic achievements, but also made significant contributions to the university itself, and, finally, shown heroism and selflessness in service to the greater community of Cascade at large."

Among the dignitaries on stage, some gasped, and at least one put her hand to her mouth. It seemed that the specific terminology used in the President's words had a meaning beyond the obvious. The Deans all beamed at one another before making themselves comfortable again in their seats. Chancellor Edwards was looking slightly green.

Pershoff continued. "One student has proven that the impossible is possible, by outstanding research and persistence in his studies, despite all attempts to sway him from what seemed like an untenable position. That student has also contributed to the health and life of Rainier University by challenging us to exemplify the principles and ideals of objective fair play we try to inculcate in our scholars. Furthermore, that same man has proven himself more than heroic and selfless in service to Cascade itself. He has, as part of his research into his unpopular thesis, undergone moments of danger that would dissuade anyone else from continuing in the work. He has faced ridicule and denigration by publicly renouncing his work for the sake of protecting another from an assassin's bullet, renouncing fame and fortune both. Neither was that the only occasion on which he put his life on the line to save others; the list of names of people who have declared to me that they owe their lives to him is extraordinary. He has been held hostage, was threatened with death numerous times, and suffered being shot in the leg in the course of his work. Once, he...died."

The hall was frozen, waiting for the culmination of such experiences. Jim was grinning from ear to ear, and he shot glances at all his friends, to see them grinning back at him.

Pershoff went on. "We are thankful that he survived to see this day. It is seldom that all of these qualities are to be found in one person. But we at Rainier University know that man for who he is. Whatever derogation he faced in his past, whatever fortune in the future, we know him for his triumphs as a scholar and as a man today. There is provision made for such a rare individual amongst us. This university has only awarded six times previously the Founders' Prize, for outstanding merit and service in the search for knowledge, unwavering adherence to the ideals of academia, and the betterment of the wider community in which Rainier University is situated.

"Today, it is my very great pleasure to announce the awarding of the Founders' Prize, for only the seventh time ever, and the first time in twenty-four years, to Blair Sandburg. Dr. Sandburg, please come forward."

The last line was almost inaudible; the amphitheatre exploded into cheering, and everyone leaped up. Naomi doubled over, sobbing with delight. Steadying her, Jim jockeyed the two of them out of their seats and into the aisle so that they could see Blair, see the joy on his face. He was climbing the steps slowly.


Blair felt as if his head were not connected to his feet. He looked back at the audience, searching the crowd until he saw Jim and Naomi waving at him. What a kick! He smiled in triumph, and began bouncing up the steps, giving a kind of half-wave to his mother and best friend, which made them laugh out loud.

Blair grinned back at them, reveling in their happiness, feeling giddy from their pride. When he reached the podium, he was handed a gilded trophy five feet high, which, like the scrolls before it, had been hidden in the recess of the podium itself. The prize was the original created when the university was founded; the names of the former recipients were engraved upon it in three short lines, so seldom had it been awarded anyone.

"Wow," he breathed, and the room quieted.

Pershoff hushed the room and invited Dr. Sandburg to say a few words.

Blair gulped. In some ways, this was the most stressful day he had ever spent. "I'm overwhelmed," he said, and had to stop to grin.

The audience began to chuckle softly.

"I never expected anything like this," he admitted, feasting his eyes on the figure of Athene, goddess of wisdom and war, which was the whole upper half of the thing. "Um, I don't get to keep this one, do I?" he joked.

Pershoff smiled reluctantly. "No, this one goes back into the case with the other awards. You get a mini-version of it, Dr. Sandburg. That one you can keep. And the financial award that goes with it; that too is yours to keep."

"Well, okay," Blair murmured, still in love with the statuette.

"Do you have anything else to add?" Pershoff prompted.

Blair recalled himself to the ceremony. He looked up, took in the whole ensemble, the people of knowledge and power on stage, the audience full of those he taught and worked and studied with, the firm friends who glowed with happiness for him at the various entrances, and the paparazzi.

Bingo! He got cold feet.

"Ah, um, I, ah," Blair stuttered. Pershoff clapped him lightly on the back, and Blair took heart and a lungful of air. "Thank you, President Pershoff, and all the faculty here. I'm not sure I deserve this, but I'll take it!"

The hall burst into laughter and clapping. Pershoff hushed everyone so that Blair could go on.

"All I really want to say is that I owe more to my family and friends than I could ever tell you. They've supported me through thick and thin, and especially my mother Naomi Sandburg, Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department, and my best friend and partner, Detective Jim Ellison. This," he raised the trophy high, "belongs as much to all of them as to me. Someday I'll write my memoirs and tell you all about it. But not now!" He mock-glared at the audience and intentionally glared at the press.

The audience was laughing outright. Blair tried to make his escape under cover of the chuckling, but Pershoff stayed him. Blair raised his eyebrows in puzzlement. The President did not keep him waiting long.

"Whereas the Founders' Prize is the last award given by the university, Dr. Sandburg," Pershoff spoke both to Blair and the microphone, "it is not the final honor of the day. I call upon Mayor Charlotte Hanratty and Captain Simon Banks of the Major Crime Division, Cascade Police Department, at this time."

Blair swallowed hard. He could hardly believe it when Simon, in full dress uniform, came strolling out from the wings. So that was why Blair hadn't spotted him before! Blair had eyes for no one but Simon, who was trying to look gruff, but whose lips kept lifting at the ends. Mayor Hanratty was speaking into the mike, addressing the crowd. Simon Banks put out a finger and gently directed Blair to turn toward her with a light tap on his shoulder.

Blair came to in time to hear only her last words.

"...my great pleasure to award to Dr. Blair Sandburg the Cascade Medal of Courage and name him Cascade's Citizen of the Year. Dr. Sandburg?"

Blair was not-so-gently nudged forward.

Simon produced a black velvet case from somewhere, and handed it to the mayor. She opened it and withdrew a gleaming silver medal strung on a red, white and blue ribbon.

"I call on Captain Simon Banks for the next part." She opened the case and offered the medal to the policeman.

"I know of no one who deserves this more than you, Blair. Uh, Dr. Sandburg." The ribbon stretched wide over his long fingers and Simon just barely got it to skim over the doctoral bonnet, to hang the disk at the middle of Blair's breastbone.

"Thank you, Simon. Uh, Captain Banks." Blair and Simon wore matching grins. Blair next thanked Hanratty and the citizenry of Cascade. He finished by thanking all the members of Major Crime and the Cascade Police Department as a whole. By then he was winded, and Pershoff rescued him by surging up to take his place at the microphone again.

Whatever the President was saying, Blair missed it. Simon was shepherding him towards a half-hidden emergency door, and got him through it in jig time.

"No alarm?"

"Turned that one off. Tomaki will turn it back on now."

"Oh, good. How long have you known about the medal and the Citizen of the Year thing? Jim never hinted about it or anything. It’s…. It’s…. Oh man, Simon." Blair shook his head, grinning.

Simon whistled a merry tune. "He didn't know. I put you up for the medal, and Hanratty thought up the Citizen of the Year thing herself. You know how she loves photo ops, and with luck, she'll snag the paparazzi for us. Heh-heh. As for Jim, you two are so close that sometimes, I swear, you read each other's mind and finish each other's sentences. Not gonna let something like that" -- he reached out to rap the medal hanging on Sandburg's chest – "out to your partner in crime. Heh-heh-heh-heh."

Blair was still for a moment, taking in his friend's satisfaction in pulling off the award ceremony. It made his eyes sting. He turned away to look out the window and noticed his surroundings, in the chi-chi restaurant and theater district. "Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise."

"Oh, no. A surprise party. Didn't you guys just give me one of those?"

"So sue us."

That cracked them both up, and Blair was whisked away in his full-robed splendor to a private room at the Chez Armand restaurant. The gang from Major Crime and his mother were already waiting for him, having done an end run around the press people at Convocation Hall, and gotten clean away. They were grouped around a huge table with seating for eleven; it gleamed with silver and crystal. His seat was saved, between Jim and Megan Conner, his mother directly across from him. One spot was empty.

"Hi, guys," Blair said, blushing at the warmth of the smiles turned on him. "Uh, I gotta change out of these," he flicked at his gown with both hands; "they're rented and need to go back spotless."

"Nah, don't worry about it, Hairboy," Henri said negligently.

"But I can't afford it if some wine gets spilled or something. I got a feeling this party isn't going to stay exactly sedate." Blair eyed Henri and Rafe with deep suspicion.

Rhonda giggled and Megan joined her.

"S'okay, Sandy," Megan insisted. "Wear 'em like you own 'em."

"Jim?" Blair was incredulous that Jim hadn't spoken about ruining the rented robes. Mr. Anal should have been telling him to take them off before he spoiled them. His disbelief showed in his face and out-thrown hands. "I can't...."

"Yeah, you can," Joel assured him. "They're yours."

"Wha...?"

"Our graduation present to you," Simon tossed off. He caught Blair's eye and Blair's jaw dropped when he realized the true surprise Captain Banks and the Major Crime Department of the Cascade Police Department had had in store for him.

"You might need them in the future, right, Chief?" his best friend said.

Blair peered around the table, taking in the sudden seriousness of every face. It was as if he could read their hearts. Each man and woman was reflecting on the saga of How Blair Sandburg Got His Doctorate, and the academic finery, pomp and prestige seemed to have brought home to them all the reality of his career as a teacher in a way they had never internalized before. They had gotten an abrupt wake-up call. Dr. Blair Sandburg had choices and options, which they had never before realized, in their guts, were his. The gift of his academic robes hit Blair where he lived. These people had finally gotten it. They were giving back to him his original choice of career, no strings attached; whatever he wanted, they would support.

Blair smiled blindingly at Simon and the rest of the party, then turned to face Jim directly to answer his question. "Nah. It's highly unlikely. What does a police consultant need with a get-up like Leonardo da Vinci, huh?"

It was too solemn a moment for one quip to turn the emotional tide. "Thought you specialized in, what did he call it, 'proving the impossible was possible'? You never know." Jim spoke more earnestly than Blair could remember ever hearing him before.

Dr. Sandburg nodded his head a couple of times, and pursed his lips. "You never know," he reiterated. "Anyone making book on it? The smart money is on the CPD, guys," he swept the group of his friends and family with a warm glance. "I think you kinda got me, like, forever."

Naomi teared up again, Simon bit back a smile, and Jim put his hand out over his partner's.

"Forever's a long time, Chief," the detective said.

"Yeah, but I specialize in proving the impossible is possible," Blair shot back. "Forever? I can do forever."

Jim lifted his hand to swat Blair's curls and stopped a millimeter away from the bonnet. "Hey, take off the hat! I can't whap you upside the head with that thing on."

"Never taking it off, then," Blair bantered.

"What, you're gonna shower with it on?" Jim demanded.

Blair was about to answer when his mouth was very effectively prevented from speaking by a pair of Aussie Inspector Megan Conner lips. She took her sweet time, and Blair blushed red to the accompaniment of hoots and gibes. Rhonda replaced her and kissed him with equal affection. "Congratulations, Dr. Sandburg."

Naomi had rounded the table and was doing the motherly kissing routine. Jim poured out champagne for all.

"To Dr. Blair Sandburg, who is a very good fellow indeed," Jim toasted his partner.

Blair was unsuccessful in persuading the Major Crime chorus from singing his praises.

"Wow," he said to himself, ruddy of face. "Wow."

The song had just ended when the waiter arrived with a silver salver full of hors-d'oeuvres. An eleventh guest trailed behind him, his briefcase under his arm.

"Eli!"

The waiter showed Dr. Stoddard to the last chair, and, setting his briefcase aside, he leaned forward to grip Blair's hand firmly. "Dr. Sandburg, I presume."

Blair was chuckling in delight, so Jim answered for him. "Yes, indeed, this is Dr. Sandburg, Dr. Stoddard." He made the real introductions to the other members of the party, and went on, "It's a shame you had to miss the ceremony."

"I flew in from Beijing, but the flight was delayed," Blair's mentor explained.

"Don't worry," Daryl puffed up slightly. "I have it all on tape."

"I'd really hoped you could be there, but I'm glad you're here for the party," Blair said, eyes shining.

Eli took back his hand. "I had a difficult task entrusted to me, and many adventures and much gold spent before it was ended."

Blair looked at him sideways, doubt deep in his eyes. "Why are you playing Indiana Jones? Or is it his father? C'mon, Eli, give with the mysterious stuff!"

Stoddard harrumphed and shook his head. "These young men. So impetuous." He waited, teasing, until Blair could stand no more of it.

"ELI!"

Everyone laughed then, and Dr. Stoddard filched something from the innards of the briefcase. He tossed a rectangular parcel wrapped in gold foil with blue ribbons around it across the table. "Blair, from Jim" said the attached tag. It was in Eli Stoddard's handwriting.

Blair looked from it to his partner.

'Yeah, buddy,' Jim's eyes told him.

Blair gulped and picked up his gift. He slipped the ribbons easily over the foil, and lifted the tape with a table knife. Inside was something swaddled in white tissue paper.

"What on earth?" Blair tried to guess what he was about to get.

"C'mon, Blair," Rafe bitched. "We all wanna see it."

"Yeah, hurry up" and "Go on, open it" and "Whatcha waiting for?" jolted him into action.

The tissue came away easily. It revealed an old, leather-bound book about the size and shape of trade paperbacks. Blair passed his fingers over the bindings, then brought the volume up close to his face for the delicious scent of aged leather. "Nice, whatever it is," Blair looked up at Jim hesitantly.

Jim's face was shuttered. It was Jim's Black Ops, I-don't-give-information-I-extract-it-from-you-with-whatever-force-is-necessary-and-I-am-really-hoping-you-don't-cooperate-you-slime-you face. Blair blinked. He scanned the text again, his fingers stroking it unconsciously.

"I think I'm afraid to open it," he admitted quietly to his best friend.

Jim put his hand over Blair's and Blair let him lift the cover with their index fingers to display the first page after the onionskin.

"The Shaman of Siberia, My Journal of Adventures" was the title written by a bold hand in rusty ink. The author named himself – Richard Burton.

Blair stopped breathing. Something had paralyzed his brain; the words did not make sense, they could not make sense, they were impossible.

"Breathe, Sandburg," Jim suggested with a punch to his shoulder.

Blair woke up out of his reveries. "Oh, my God, Jim. Is this real?"

"Yeah. If Eli is to be believed," Jim assured him.

Dr. Stoddard scowled at the detective, but nodded once, decisively, to Blair.

"You bought it from Eli?" Blair was trying to understand, looking from one to the other.

With a wave of his hand, Eli gave silent permission to Jim to tell the rest.

"He bought it as my agent, to give to you, if he ever found it. Or something like it. I know you don't have the money to spend on collector's books, but I figured if Eli ever turned up something by Burton on sentinels or shaman, I'd find the money somehow."

"Did this put you in debt?"

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to ask how much a present cost?" Jim and Naomi shook their heads at the lapse of manners of such a troublesome child.

Eli cleared his throat. "I found it in...."

"Borneo?" Blair asked incredulously.

"No, you young whippersnapper," Eli barked, then sat back and rested himself. "I always wanted to call someone a young whippersnapper. Thank you, Dr. Sandburg, for that experience." His eyes were a-twinkle.

"Where? How? Eli!"

"It took a great deal of tracking down, a lot of feelers put out here and there, and much negotiation as to price, I will say that," Stoddard stated. "The last owner had some idea of its material worth, and not a shred of any understanding of its true value. I have delivered it to you personally, and completed my commission. More, I will not say."

Blair inhaled deeply. His fingers played over leather and silk, onionskin and deckle. "Oh, man." There were only two people in the room. "Oh, man, Jim."

"I am so proud you're my partner, Chief," Jim whispered.

Blair looked up with his soul in his eyes. "Me too, Jim. You make me proud every day."

Jim leaned over his smaller partner and slung his arm around Blair's neck. Blair's hands left the treasure and locked into place around Jim. They didn't say anything, but then, they didn't have to.

Major Crime, Eli and Naomi happily ate all the hors-d'oeuvres.

The End


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